Workers Tribune No. 1
The Racist Killing of Colten Boushie
Capitalist Canada: Hellhole for Indigenous Peoples
Labour Must Champion Indigenous Rights!
On February 9, Gerald Stanley, a Saskatchewan farmer, was acquitted of second-degree murder charges by an all-white jury for the cold-blooded killing of Colten Boushie, a 22-year-old Cree man. On 9 August 2016, after a day at the lake, Boushie and his four friends got a flat tire on their way home and drove onto Stanley’s farm seeking help. Stanley, aided by his son, chased the group away with gunfire and then shot Colten in the back of the head at close range. This was a racist atrocity that polarized the country for almost two years. After the not guilty verdict, thousands across Canada protested in angry response. Meanwhile, there was an eruption of racist reaction and a wave of support for Boushie’s killer.
This case lays bare the lie of Canada as a progressive, multicultural haven. Cree activist Erica Violet Lee captured this lie in her description of the courtroom during Stanley’s trial: “We looked up at the front of the court room and you could see everyone in charge of our fate was white.” She continued:
“And above it all, there is a picture of the Queen looking over the court room. We realized this is not a system set up for us: this is not a system set up to keep us safe.”
Indeed, this is the bourgeois justice system and for Indigenous peoples in racist capitalist Canada there is no justice. Rather, the courts, judges and prosecutors, together with the cops and prison guards, are at the core of the capitalist state. The state is an apparatus of violence whose purpose is to defend the class rule and property of the capitalist rulers against the working class and oppressed.
Canada was built on the dispossession of the pre-existing aboriginal inhabitants and the forcible subjugation of the Québécois nation. It is in the interest of the working class to take up the fight against Indigenous oppression and racist reaction. The historic task of the working class is to sweep away the capitalist system and forge an egalitarian socialist society where production is based on human needs and not profit. The trial and acquittal of Stanley provide a case study in how the machinery of the Canadian capitalist state works to oppress Indigenous peoples.
During his trial, Stanley claimed that his gun “just went off.” His lawyer argued that it was a “freak accident,” a rare “hang fire” malfunction which caused the gun to fire long after he had pulled the trigger, a defense that gun experts thoroughly refuted. As for the crown attorney, he might as well have been on Stanley’s legal team. As a former chief of the Red Pheasant First Nation put it, “We had to encourage the crown prosecutor to prosecute and not help the defense.”
Gerald Stanley got away with killing Colten Boushie, while Boushie’s friends and family were treated like criminals. His grieving mother was abused and their home on the Red Pheasant First Nation was invaded and searched by an army of cops, guns drawn. The police detained Boushie’s friends, smearing them as potential thieves. One, a young woman, was held for 19 hours without food or sleep. The SUV Boushie was killed in was left unprotected by cops as heavy rain washed away blood, footprints and other evidence. Boushie’s dead body was left face down in the gravel on Stanley’s farm for over 24 hours.
Colten Boushie was killed for being an Indigenous man on a white man’s property. In the vicious backlash that erupted after the murder, local politician Ben Kautz declared that Stanley’s “only mistake was leaving three witnesses.” White farmers began setting up armed vigilante “community patrols” on the pretext that they are besieged by “rural crime,” racist code for Indigenous peoples.
This is the reality in capitalist Canada, where Indigenous lives mean nothing to the ruling class. From coast to coast, Indigenous peoples suffer massive disproportionate incarceration. In Saskatchewan, they are 16 percent of the population, but 81 percent of those sentenced to provincial jails. Women are especially subjected to police violence. A 2016 Human Rights Watch investigation uncovered dozens of cases of assaults, degrading strip searches, sexual abuse and harassment of Indigenous women by Saskatchewan cops.
Bourgeois Hypocrisy and Indigenous Oppression
Liberal prime minister Justin Trudeau and his justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould responded to the Stanley verdict with empty promises to “do better.” Since coming to power in 2015, Trudeau has sought to rebrand Canada as a “progressive” player on the world stage, including by posing as a champion of Indigenous rights. In fact, Trudeau is the enforcer of capitalist rule. The Liberal Party has been the main party of the bourgeoisie in Canada for more than 100 years. Alternating with the Conservatives, they have overseen the theft of Indigenous lands along with ceaseless state brutality and repression.
Soon after the verdict, the Trudeau government went into damage-control mode, launching a “review” of the RCMP’s actions following Boushie’s murder (the RCMP had already cleared itself of all wrongdoing). This is merely one more whitewash. For years, Royal Commissions and inquiries have documented the state’s violence against Indigenous peoples, the theft of their lands and children, the staggering suicide rates among young people who see no future for themselves.
The latest is the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls inquiry, created by the Liberals in 2016 in response to a decade of protest over the fates of the Indigenous women—as many as 4,000—who have been murdered or gone missing since 1980. Yet this inquiry, like all the other ones, will change nothing because it will not touch the material conditions of Indigenous life. The ruling class will not provide even the most basic needs for Indigenous peoples: quality education, health and housing programs, clean water and electricity. Rather, they conduct inquiries in order to quell outrage and regain public trust while deflecting attention away from the real workings of this capitalist system.
NDP: Social-Democratic Tool of
Federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh decried the Stanley verdict as an example of the injustice and systemic racism that plagues Indigenous peoples across Canada. But for Singh and the NDP the problem is that without the appearance of justice, people will lose confidence in the system. The NDP is a bourgeois workers party, linked to the trade unions but with a bourgeois program. Their central goal is to administer the capitalist state. By offering up this or that cosmetic reform they serve the interests of the ruling class, deflecting labour and other social struggles into safe parliamentary channels.
In Alberta and B.C., where the NDP currently rules, the jails are as full of Indigenous peoples as ever, and the grinding poverty and police violence is unchanged. And when the interests of the capitalist class call for the sledgehammer, the NDP in power has not been found wanting, using the power of the state to break strikes and attack minorities. In B.C. in 1995, for example, the NDP government mounted one of the largest military/police operations in Canadian history against Indigenous protesters at Gustafsen Lake. As part of the struggle to forge a revolutionary workers party, it is a strategic task to break workers from the politics of the Anglo-chauvinist NDP and its social-democratic doctrines which claim that the capitalists and workers share a common interest.
As revolutionary Marxists, we seek to expose illusions in bourgeois democracy and place the struggle for democratic rights within the framework of a class-struggle perspective for proletarian power. Pro-NDP “socialist” groups like
Fightback do the contrary and push the myth that the capitalist profit system can be reformed. In response to Stanley’s acquittal they declared, with respect to the police:
“In place of this unaccountable body, we need to fight for direct democratic control of security bodies by the workers and the oppressed through trade unions and marginalized community organizations. Judges and prosecutors at all levels need to be elected with the right of recall at any time, so that these ‘arbiters of justice’ are accountable to the people. Justice should be democratic.”
— marxist.ca, 12 February
This amounts to a call for “workers control” of the bourgeoisie’s apparatus of state repression. The reformist illusion in a “democratic” capitalist justice system “accountable to the people” goes hand in hand with Fightback’s longstanding position that the police are “workers in uniform.” This is false: the cops and courts are part of the capitalists’ state. Workers cannot take control of the bourgeois state but must sweep it away with a socialist revolution that overthrows bourgeois rule and brings the working class to power.
For a Class-Struggle Fight to Defend Indigenous Rights!
Indigenous oppression is rooted in the legacy of colonialism, first French and later British, and in the rise and consolidation of Canadian capitalism. Through centuries of unspeakable violence, disease, broken treaties and land seizures, aboriginal societies and economies were undermined and destroyed. Today, Indigenous peoples on the reserves are isolated and endure devastating poverty, while in the cities they face intense racism and social marginalization, and are largely blocked from participation in industry and from well-paid jobs.
It is vital that the social power of the working class be brought to bear in defense of Indigenous peoples. Because of its role in production, the working class uniquely has the power and class interest to liberate all who suffer under capitalist rule. There are a few important examples of the integration of Indigenous peoples into key sectors of the working class. In 2016, nearly half of the 2,500 workers at Cameco in northern Saskatchewan, one of the largest uranium mines in the world, were Indigenous. In Quebec and Ontario, Mohawk workers have been concentrated among the ironworkers. A class-struggle leadership of the unions would mobilize labour’s power to champion the fight against Indigenous oppression, taking concrete steps such as aggressive union-run recruitment and training programs. This would be a first step toward breaking the cycle of unemployment and social marginalization. Labour must also be mobilized against acts of racist state terror.
Only an egalitarian socialist society under workers rule will lay the material basis for the eradication of Indigenous oppression. This requires a socialist revolution that smashes the capitalist state and replaces it with a workers state. A workers government would quickly move to mobilize the social resources and spend the money necessary to provide a decent life for Indigenous peoples and redress the hideous oppression from which they have long suffered, promoting their voluntary integration on the basis of complete equality while providing the fullest possible regional autonomy for those who desire it.
Mobilizing workers to champion the besieged Indigenous population is a key part of the Trotskyist League’s struggle to build a revolutionary workers party. Such a party would be a tribune of the people, championing the interests of all the oppressed, opposing every instance of bourgeois injustice while exposing the workings of the capitalist system for all to see. Indigenous militants will necessarily be an important part of such a revolutionary leadership.